GROUNDWATER RIGHTS PRIMER: What Agencies & Project Developers Need to Know

From Maven’s Notebook:

“California depends on groundwater for a major portion of its annual water supply, and sustainable groundwater management is essential to a reliable and resilient water system. In recognition of this, the legislature passed a three-bill package known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 that set in motion a plan to sustainably manage the state’s groundwater basins.  The centerpiece of the legislation is recognition that groundwater management is best accomplished at the local level, and so SGMA requires the creation of groundwater sustainability agencies to develop and implement locally-developed groundwater sustainability plans, allowing 20 years to achieve sustainability.

The legislation explicitly states that it does not alter any water rights: the legislation adds Water Code section 10720.5(b) that states that nothing in the legislation “determines or alters surface water rights or groundwater rights under common law or any provision of law that determines or grants surface water rights.”  However, Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and project proponents must address such rights in groundwater sustainability plan development, projects to increase yield such as recharge projects, and reducing pumping to reach sustainability.

California’s structure of groundwater rights is notoriously complex, directly related to hydrologic conditions, and complicates the goal of sustainable groundwater management.  At the McGeorge School of Law’s Executive Training on Water Rights in Groundwater: A Deep Dive into California Groundwater Rights, Professor Jennifer Harder and Hydrogeologist Derrik Williams discussed the convoluted world of groundwater rights as it exists in California. … “